Diary

Maybe Tom Friedman is Right

[Update: Yes, I was aware of Gail Collins’ editorial well before I wrote this. I read Collins’ editorial almost at the instant it hit the Times’ website, and there have been others. It’s a pretty big buzz. Pajamas Media picked up on it seven hours ago, which means that the actual emails broaching the subject among liberal newspaper editors went out some time in the past 48 hours. Still, I think Tom Friedman’s idea isn’t in the same category and deserves some thought.]

Please spare me the charges of being a Redstate heretic if I entertain a fairly radical notion here on our pages for a few moments. One of the opinion writers at the New York Times who I still respect is Tom Friedman, and he has an article up today that I think deserves some commentary and analysis here.

He prefaces his comments by fantasizing about amending the Constitution to inaugurate Barack Obama immediately, as quickly as we did … get this … when LBJ was sworn in after the Kennedy assassination. You can’t get more dramatic than that, but he ultimately realizes that it’s an impractical suggestion and instead we should…

… “ask President Bush to appoint Tim Geithner, Barack Obama’s proposed Treasury secretary, immediately.” Make him a Bush appointment and let him take over next week. This is not a knock on Hank Paulson. It’s simply that we can’t afford two months of transition where the markets don’t know who is in charge or where we’re going. At the same time, Congress should remain in permanent session to pass any needed legislation.

All the symbolism and melodrama aside, I’m inclined to support that idea. I agree with Friedman’s argument that the time spent in the transition process is essentially several months wasted, or at least time that we can save, and that at this moment it could be reassuring to the market and the world if we all took steps to insure a swift and orderly transition of power at the Treasury Department.

Friedman is worried, and he begins his article with a warning to young people that he sees as living in denial as he walks around Manhattan:

So, I have a confession and a suggestion. The confession: I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”

I understand where he’s coming from with that observation, and I have an even more compelling anecdote: two days ago I had a shocking conversation with someone my father and I have known in business for more than 30 years. His company is weathering the storm as well as any right now, but I’ve never heard him so personally anguished: in the past four months he’s lost more than $4 million dollars — a majority fraction — of his personal net worth because of the declines in the stock market coupled with weakness and uncertainty in other areas. This is a good man who literally built his business starting in the 2-car garage of his house, and he’s cutting back in every area, including the generous philanthropic activities he engages in.

The problem is severe.

Knowing that the market is forward-looking and will respond favorably to what it views as sound and proactive decision making, I want to put Tom Friedman’s idea on the table here for discussion. I can’t see how appointing Geithner and making his transition to power as rapid and orderly as possible could be objected to for anything other than reasons of wounded pride. In a crisis, that’s not rational behavior. It won’t require amending the Constitution, and if Tom Friedman is right, it could have a reassuring effect on markets and the larger economy as we move into the holiday season.

What do you think?